Coronavirus. My active work life ending soon.  George Floyd and the USA and curfew in St Louis.  Gail says ‘pack up’.  There are changes afoot.

This week a colleague friend wrote about the matters concerning us all regarding race.  He has been tasked with helping The Salvation Army where he is to begin addressing this issue in a fresh way.  It included a discussion on ‘equality’ and ‘equity’.

In retrospect I liked my quick reply.  I would like to ruminate on it but for what it’s worth here it is:

Hi A_____,

I don’t believe that equality is much of an issue anymore in this country. 

But the equity issue is still a controversy; e.g. the political battles over Affirmative Action, etc.  If all things were equal it would be okay to agree on equality but equity recognizes that all things are not equal.  Such a recognition compels us to give extra, even to give up what I have, to help that brother and sister who do not have that which we have.

A social, political and economic approach does not value equity, unless it benefits me; utilitarianism.  It’s only when I see with good Samaritan eyes that I can transcend my utilitarian heart.

There, that’s all for free, A____.  Wishing you the best as you help the Army get its equity act together.

Blessings –

Phil

Hardly that any of us in TSA have got our equity act together.  Or, for that matter, anyone else on this planet.

More and more I am feeling the distinction between purely social/political/economic approaches and the approach we are invited by Jesus the Christ to follow.  He beckons us to follow him.  Here and now.  In this world.  Not to become some saint, but to become the human beings we are meant to be, fully human.  For others.

As weary as I am of those approaches, I am yet fresh for the pathway Jesus the Christ leads me on.  You come, too.

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I am writing this from St Louis the morning of the fifth anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO.

This morning Gail is in Ferguson.  At the building we share with the Urban League of St Louis.  After attending an advocacy group presentation she will be present at the 11 AM gathering on Canfield Drive a couple of blocks away from our building.

Gail’s been part of that gathering in years past, simply there in her Salvation Army uniform, not a participant in any program, pretty much unacknowledged.  Just there.  Some people call that the ministry of presence.  Sure.

Yesterday we brought a group of children with their leaders to the Army’s Camp Mihaska.

I was van driver and griller of hot dogs, bratwurst and kielbasa for these young people who are members of our Spark Academy in Ferguson.  The weather was really fine, bugs were remarkably absent.  Our picnic was sandwiched between the pool and the playground.  ‘Do we have to leave?’  Too short a time.   Just the way it should be so that they return.

Spark and TH at Mihaska 8 8 19

It was a great break for these young people, for those who work with them, for all of us.  During this week of the anniversary of a shooting that continues to be heard around our US of A.

Veronica with Spark at Mihaska 8 8 19

All around us in St Louis, and by this I mean all our separate units of municipalities and counties in this part of Missouri with their own little police departments and city halls and county officials, and … all this week there is an uneasy peace.  We have made acceptable offerings to appease the gods of unrest/protest/riots whatever term a person uses to signify their socio-political persuasion.  Meetings, commemorations, memorials, presentations, prayer breakfasts, projects …  man, we’ve piled it on like a mile-high ham sandwich.

We’d all like to be at a place where the feel good feelings are.  But hardly anybody is at that place.  Media reports good reason to feel that we are not there yet.   This morning Tony Messenger of the St Louis Post-Dispatch tells us that five of the Ferguson Commission’s 47 priority calls to action have been carried out.  47 seems like a big number for 5 years.

Maybe we should celebrate.  But we are mostly feeling uneasy, like that feeling that comes when something has been left yet undone.

 

Has the past anything to do with us now?  Where we are?

You ask ‘where is that question coming from’ and ‘what exactly are you trying to get at?’

Yesterday I talked with my sister about something that happened recently, an accident, in her business.  In her account it’s pretty clear that the offending party is absolutely at fault for the accident.  Something is owed to the injured party, something that the offender could make right.

If, and now I am stepping into strictly hypothetical land … if nothing is done to right the wrong, how does this non action affect the future?  Those times the two meet, attempt to have conversation, relationship, work together, exist together in the same community?

Now we shall leave that hypothetical land I have created out of my sister’s story, and travel to a non hypothetical place called 21st century America.

“Unless one increases their conscious awareness of U.S. racist history and connects the historical dots to the continued, present-day effects of our societal order, one cannot even begin to understand, much less address, the issues of racism in America” so writes Kimberly Norwood of Washington University here in my town.  Ms. Norwood, a professor of law and African-American studies shared this with John Eligon writing in this morning’s New York Times about what we can learn from the story of Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam.

The stories help us.  The hypothetical and the real.  From the past to what’s going on right now.  If we remember, if we tell them.

We have to, if we are going to resolve those matters of wrongs done, justice we call this, which the human creature seems to require.  It’s connecting those dots.

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There is a lot of fear in America these days.

It is a fear based on a belief that there is only so much of a pie to share around the table.  If we cut someone new into the pie my piece gets smaller.  So, those who at present have a sliver, or no pie at all, keep ’em there.

But this morning it occurred to me that for those who believe in the God of creation and of the new creation, the one and only God of making things, we have to back up on our social and political views.  Perhaps you can see where this is going.  In the circles I am part of there is frequent reference to the contrasts of scarcity and abundance.  My faith and practice community, The Salvation Army, constantly works this over.  For instance, in the aftermath of the Army’s Christmas season (a little humor, but also some seriousness) we are revising budgets based on donations in the red kettles and monetary gifts via the mail.  But in our heart of hearts we believe, we have faith, we have eyes that search for that little cloud on the distant horizon (1 Kings 18:44).  And we so often are amazed at how God opens his hand (Psalm 145:11-21).

As I was running this morning in my neighborhood this occurred to me and it is working its way in my looking at budget reports and listening to requests for help.

God who did create ‘in the beginning’, who is the God who makes people to be ‘a new creation’, this God just might create, provide what is needed if we decide to follow Christ in the way he was, and is, and the way he points us to go.

Five loaves, two fish, a great crowd.  “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 14 and 10:39, 16:25)

“The eyes of all wait upon thee and thou givest them their meat in due season.”  Amen.

This scrap of yellow legal pad on the desk is beginning to annoy me so here it is.

what once was October 2018

Now I will toss it.  Amen.

I scribbled these notes several weeks ago driving old haunts in Chicago.  Changes.  Where familiar places once were.  Now filled by the less inspiring.

  • Sunshine Cafe on Clark for simple homestyle Japanese food … now gyros and whatnot from a Greek place.  What Chicago needs.  More gyros.
  • Tom Seay Center on Broadway at Sunnyside where for decades The Salvation Army in spite of concerned citizens aka NIMBY was able to offer a place to stay for people who were homeless and receive help in leaving the streets … now home to a mattress store and Sprint sales people.  Surrounded by invading suburban life.  The genteel middle class consumer now abides.  Shopping at Target on the other side of the street.  They have won.
  • Treasure Island, our favorite on Broadway at Cornelia, our household’s provenance of holiday foods … closed.  I watched out of town small business owners scavenging store fixtures.  All Chicago’s Treasure Islands now closed.  Thank you, Walmart (and Target).
  • Golden Nugget on Clark at Schubert, where breakfast could be had at any time of day, the rarity of rarities for it had, wonder of wonders, PARKING in the back.  And pretty decent endless coffee … now Banana Republic without offering a single banana to eat.  Get your coffee down the street.  More money, less character.  But with soy.

I could go on.

One more observation.

Driving the north side means seeing such construction such as I have not seen in the decades I’ve known this side of Chicago.  It seems everywhere.  What began during Daley the Second appears to have infected retail and residential building for miles on and near Clark during the reign of Rahm.  What’s going on?

If he were still with us what would Royko write?

This St Louis Post Dispatch article caught my eye when it ran a few days ago.  Because many years ago at a conference sponsored by Pastoral Renewal this pretty much is what one presenter predicted.

The conference took place in Oak Park IL where we just happened to be living at the time.  The mid 1980s.  I would need to search my stuff to identify who said it… Ralph Martin?  dunno.

But the statement from the speaker caught my attention then.  I’ve remembered.  And now this Lancet Commission report will be examined and discussed this week in London.

I suspect that what will be discussed may nudge up close to the 21st century development of the Urban Millennium.

Increasing density of population.  Richer and more complex diversity.  Greater disparities.  All could be likely suspects.  Don’t misunderstand me.  I do not demonize these developments.  But they bring challenges as well as blessings.  Let’s see what comes from the London conference.

looking west 4 20 2017

“But I’d always seen my work through the lens of social justice.”

When I read it I realized this was also true for me.  Increasingly so, over the years, the decades.  Soon four decades as a Salvation Army Officer.

I have worked in Gary IN, westside Chicago, Detroit.  I now live in the Benton Park West neighborhood of St Louis where young white professional people are showing up as homeowners alongside BPW’s long time black community largely of renters.

My morning runs go south through the Dutchtown neighborhood where I note houses and street corners people have been shot.  On one block alone I watched the news last year as first one then two more were shot to death there.  One block.  It seems like such a nice block, too.  Early rising neighbors wave and exchange greetings with me.

When I read the above quote of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who exposed the lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan, I feel kinship.

My profession as a Salvation Army Officer requires among other things a generalist approach to the kinds of work an Officer does in the name of The Salvation Army.  Social work, preaching, youth development, fiscal management, property projects, discipling Christians, fundraising, loading potatoes, praying, unloading potatoes.

But at fundraisers I look around the room and notice.  At youth rallies.  On Sunday mornings I look at the crowd and notice.  At the monthly reports.  At where we allot financial resources and volunteers.  I can’t help it.  I notice and exercise what leadership I possess.  My voice, a question.  For many years now I’ve developed this sense and I can’t escape it.  At times it is burning in my bones.  Really, I’m not all that dramatic a person.  But it’s there.

I have come to realize that I am tuned to the key of justice.

Started in school.  Only twice I got into fights.  Hardly call them fights for I used my fists on surprised bullies picking on others.  A couple punches and it was over.  Remembering now, I feel something rising up in me.  It’s still there.

“lens of social justice”

That sounds much more elite-academia than working class-fists.  But the way I see it, it’s pretty much the same.

Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha

Dr. Mona Hanna Attisha 

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It is early Saturday morning on Arsenal Street, quiet and still in the back of the house.

The study window faces south and where I am seated gives a southeast view as dawn comes and goes.  With the dawn I listened to this recording of the Sibelius Scene With Cranes.  The artists are unattributed which perhaps will help it keep its place in one of those out of the way corners in the Youtube world, bringing no deletion wrath from the liability gods.

In the Youtube world I really do enjoy another version for its whimsical, then moving integration of music with, well, a scene with cranes, construction cranes.

But this morning’s recording was right for the day’s dawning moment.  Intense, limpid.  Neither overwrought nor an affectless face.  Unrushed pace of sound with dawn’s arrival.

The music and my southeast view of this neighborhood sky integrates with my anticipation of early morning migrating cranes which will come later this summer.  They will fly a northwest course high over this inner city neighborhood.   I see these cranes, by summer’s end hundreds will have traveled overhead, as I go on the streets for my morning runs.  Their flight intersects at a ninety degree angle with my runs.  It really is beautiful and I am looking forward to it.

Migratory cranes and waking inner city.  Construction cranes and Sibelius’ music of death.  Movements integrated.

This morning’s New York Times pointed out that mass school shootings happen mostly in small town America.

Okay, this seems to be so, in light of Parkland FL and Santa Fe TX.

But I thought immediately of the cumulative toll of shootings in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, my St Louis, etc.   While mass shootings in big city schools are rare, I feel confident in thinking that the total deaths of urban young people by gun tops the cumulative death total of these small town school mass shootings.

For example, 27 young people age 15 and under shot to death in Chicago during 2017 including a 4 day old preemie shot while in her mother’s womb.  I love Chicago but it’s notorious in recent years as the city with the most Americans shot to death.  I won’t make the effort to try add up all other American big cities.

So, is some light shed on the question of guns and violence, and a way forward, if we take a good look at this contrast?

This morning I am in Kansas, really not all that far from the state line with Missouri, my current home state.

Today and the next few days are ‘furlough’ which to a Salvation Army Officer means time to not-work.  I will do that for the most part.  Part of furlough in Elk County is a leisurely morning run down a dirt county road.  More than routine it is my ritual.

Yesterday morning eight whitetail crossed the road ahead as I ran north, turning with the road as it jogs right, and then left as it resumes its northerly course.  A rural water district water tower ahead beckoned me once more onward, upward the rising road.

Kansas Elk County Road 21 4 24 2018

the view midpoint in a 10k route return

Furlough days allow for these things typically put to the side.  Long runs, and reading this excerpt from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s new book Reconstructing The Gospel just out from Intervarsity Press.

Reconstructing.

Systems.

I paused in my reading.  I will get a copy of the book.

I paused at the word ‘reconstructing’.

Salvation Army work currently involves me in the roll out of a racial equity lens for our Army use throughout the St Louis region.

I live in St Louis, my office based here too.  Responsibilities frequently take me on the road throughout Missouri and southern Illinois.  Away from life which I enjoy in our Benton Park West neighborhood, a ten minute walk to Cherokee Street, the gritty diversity, the earnest and often clueless young white folks moving into BPW.  And the personal challenge to me, a professional minister with years of experience in urban inner cities now able to live in a place I understand.  Often.  There are times I am not so unlike those earnest ones.

Reconstructing the gospel is about reconstructing the systems that are in place which handle, shape and unavoidably misuse the euangelion.  A racial equity lens helps us to examine these systems.  Organizations and institutions are systems.   The Salvation Army is a movement.  As is the way of all things, it requires shape and form.  Organization.  Ways, traditions, culture.  Decision making patterns and instituted policies.  Thus, like all organizations, we need a lens in our 21st century American post-Michael Brown St Louis setting.  We needed it pre-Michael Brown.  But now we do have a way of examining our movement here in terms of racial equity.

On the road between Kansas City and this quiet Kansas county we listened to an interview with Rhiannon Giddens, recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant last fall.  She is now working on a “theatrical treatment” of the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898.  This musical work will help us see what American history calls Reconstruction, the decades following our Civil War.  Listen to the interview.  Giddens helps us realize it should not have been a surprise what the powers of white supremacy did to Reconstruction.

The Reconstruction of the late 19th century South in America is controversial.  Until lately it has been viewed through a set of white supremacist eyes.  As a schoolboy I remember reading it to be so in our history textbooks.  It is only later in life that I’m learning otherwise.  Giddens’ new work will be part of helping tell a full story.

Things not rightly put together do not work as meant to be.  Things rightly put together can go wrong.  The attention of God in our world is in the rightly putting together of things, and in the making right of things gone wrong.  Regeneration.  Reconciliation.  Redemption.

Running.  Reading.  Ruminating.  My morning run takes me past cattle chewing the cud.  They spot me, stand, stare.  One begins to run and then all.  Every morning, through the years.

We are beginning to notice.  Using our eyes in new ways.  This is our time to start moving, some would say running to make right the things wrong.  To make new things rightly.  Reconstructing.

As we reconstruct systems, help us, Lord, to be surprised.

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